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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last night, I attended an elegant dinner party at the home of a friend. She served a delicious meal on a table set with crystal, bone china, silver and a low centerpiece of fresh flowers. Everything was perfection -- with one exception. As soon as we were seated, our hostess's elderly Aunt "Ethel" began talking about her health, with graphic details of every symptom, every allergy and every pain she had ever endured.

Other guests tried changing the subject several times, but Aunt Ethel evidently believed she was being entertaining. Among those at the table were a lawyer, a teacher and a friend who had recently returned from living several years in Africa. Each had more to contribute in the way of conversation. But not one got the opportunity to speak more than a few words before Aunt Ethel was reminded of yet another ailment she "knew" we'd find interesting.

How does one handle an awkward situation like this? In spite of her age, the woman is essentially in good health and ours is a small town. She'll probably be present at many more dinners. -- FRUSTRATED IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR FRUSTRATED: (And I'm sure you were.) Your hostess lost control of her party. A way to have handled it would have been for her to say to Aunt Ethel, with a SMILE: "That's very interesting, Aunt Ethel, but I invited everyone to come here for a reason -- so each person can tell us what they've been doing since we were last together, since I know a lot has been going on." Then she should have started around the table.

DEAR ABBY: When my husband, "Vic," and I met, we discussed having children. Although he is 25 years my senior, he was in accord with my desire to have kids. He even said we should have them right away because he is so much older.

I have had reproductive issues in the past, so before we married I went through several tests to verify that I could conceive a child. Three months after the wedding, Vic told me he had "changed his mind" and no longer wants a child. (He has one from a previous relationship.) When I told him how upset his decision made me, he said he would be "dying soon" and then I'll be able to have all the children I want.

I'm not sure where things should go from here. I feel Vic lied to me and never intended to have another child. Aside from this issue and a few others, he's a good husband. He would be there for me until one of us dies, but I don't know if I can settle for that. Vic refuses counseling, and when I told him I was going to go alone, he made me feel like it was the dumbest idea ever. Please help. -- LONGS FOR MOTHERHOOD IN LOUISIANA

DEAR LONGS FOR MOTHERHOOD: You are asking yourself very important questions, and talking about the decisions you are facing with someone who is not emotionally involved isn't a dumb idea -- it's an intelligent one. However, right now you have another issue that needs to be addressed. When your husband told you he would be dying soon, did you ask him exactly what he meant by that? If he was being literal, you may have your hands full for a while. And counseling to help you through that would be beneficial, too.

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